Cougars crash and burn to mediocre finish

Houston played a grueling, unforgiving schedule in 2007, one that produced many pitfalls, few benefits and hardly any rest. However, finding time for rest should no longer be a problem for the Cougars, who now have the entire summer to do as they please.

Their season came to a bitter end last week at the Conference USA Tournament in Greenville, N.C. Houston dropped its only two games in the five-day, double-elimination tournament in disheartening fashion to end its season at 28-28. The fourth-seeded Cougars were steamrolled by fifth-seeded Memphis 12-4 in the tournament opener on Wednesday morning and quietly fell to eighth-seeded Central Florida 1-0 in an elimination game Thursday at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

To no one’s surprise, the Cougars did not receive an at-large bid to the 2007 NCAA Tournament when the 64-team field was announced Monday on ESPN. Houston’s postseason chances were snuffed out altogether after it dropped 11 of its last 16 games, a slide that also included a five-game losing streak to end the season. The Cougars’ only shot at making the postseason was winning the C-USA tournament, a task they lacked the firepower to do.

This season marks the third time in the last four years that the Cougars have failed to earn a bid to an NCAA regional after making five consecutive postseason appearances from 1999-2003. This season’s disappointing finish has raised the ire of fans. Some have even speculated that 13-year head coach Rayner Noble could be on the verge of losing his job.

Director of Athletics Dave Maggard, however, has a slightly different take on the situation.

In a recent e-mail, Maggard expressed disappointment over the team’s poor showing this season, but acknowledged that the team struggled to overcome injuries. He said that he and Noble would meet shortly after the season to review the 2007 season. He also expressed confidence that the Cougars would be able to rebound in 2008.

The injury bug hit the pitching staff hardest, taking out junior right-handers Ricky Hargrove (shoulder), Dereck Cloeren (shoulder), and sophomore catcher/pitcher Luis Flores (elbow) early in the season. This forced the Cougars to go with a starting pitching rotation that was three-fourths freshmen (with one redshirt freshman) and that pitched inconsistently the entire season.

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